Tag Archives: whataburger

How a Brand Can Outshine Content: In-N-Out Burger vs. Whataburger

It can be challenging to explain why brand perception­ – a component of a great many of our research studies – is so important.

After all, the best content always wins, right?

Enter In-N-Out Burger and Whataburger.

Most who know me well are familiar with my love of In-N-Out, the west coast fast food cult favorite. We don’t have any locations in North Carolina where I live (though perhaps soon!), so I generally plan a side trip to grab a Double Double and animal style fries whenever I’m on the west coast.

In-N-Out Burger

Credit: Shutterstock

Recently I found myself in Austin when a light bulb clicked on. I remembered In-N-Out expanded into Texas a few years ago.

I mentioned this to several Texans, on separate occasions in different places. While their reaction to In-N-Out Burger slightly varied in how they expressed it, every one of them can be encapsulated in one simple word:


Meh?? How could this be? How could all these Texans not be fawning over my beloved In-N-Out, supremely grateful for the presence of the iconic burger palace?


Credit: Shutterstock

Texans gush about Whataburger the way I gush about In-N-Out. The two chains are similar in several ways. They were both founded around 75 years ago, providing plenty of time for generations to build fond memories. They have passionate fan bases. Each has expanded past its core, In-N-Out beyond Southern California and Whataburger beyond the Lone Star State.

But let’s be honest here for a minute. Are the content offerings really that different? Or is the Double Meat Whataburger pretty similar to the Double Double? Both claim their fries come from freshly peeled potatoes. The chocolate shake is delicious no matter which restaurant you pick.

You can’t compare In-N-Out and Whataburger to McDonalds and Burger King, but you certainly can compare them to other fast casual chains like Five Guys, Burger Fi, Shake Shack, Smashburger, and Culver’s. I’ve been to every one of those, and they’re all really good.

And yet, I sing the praises of In-N-Out.

I don’t do this because the content is that much better. I do it because the brand has made an emotional connection with me. Yes, it’s the food, but it’s the memories of eating it with my uncle and cousin in Long Beach. It’s the vintage style In-N-Out t-shirt I wore. The decal I had on my first car. The iconic logo, which reminds me of all of that.

That’s brand building. And while In-N-Out may do just fine in Texas, that’s why a large number of Texans will never say they like In-N-Out more, even if they think the product is equal or even better. It doesn’t matter, because Whataburger made the emotional connection. They have the perceptual edge.

And so it goes with your brand. Think about your product and consider if it’s appreciably different to that of your competitors. If you’ve ever kicked yourself and wondered why the competition wins so handily when the content is equally strong, it could be immensely valuable to take a deep look at the perception of your respective brands. Until you understand the landscape of perception, generating content can be like throwing darts with a blindfold.

Or trying to convince a Texan that In-N-Out is better.